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Huckleberry Finn v. Society

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In Mark Twain's world of Huckleberry Finn there is a clear divide between the morals of society and the morals Huck displays as the narrator of the story, which is defined each time Huck struggles to make an important decision and when he tries to understand something around him. Traveling the river is in many ways a coming of age experience for Huck because it is during his travels that he is faced with the necessity and the opportunity to make important choices and develop his strong innate moral center.

Huck again and again returns to this idea of being 'sivilized'. During his stay with the widow and Miss Watson, he scorns the idea as well as fears it because he believes that civilization is a loss of the freedom that living outdoors without adult supervision brings him. Huck rebels against becoming civilized every chance he gets-perhaps because he thinks that if he should succumb and live the way everyone else does he will become like them. However, he is separate from them in many ways.

Society's idea of civilization, as demonstrated by Judge Thatcher and Miss Watson, is being well-behaved, God-fearing, polite to your superiors, and sticking to the status quo. If this path is followed, the end result is going to heaven. Being civilized relates strongly to religion and the concept of heaven and hell because being civilized leads you to heaven, according to popular belief in the south; a commentary Mark Twain repeatedly makes in a derisive manner regarding the society of Huck Finn. These are the lessons the judge and the widow try to indoctrinate him with but Huck cannot bring himself to do these things. In the beginning of Huck's story, he says, 'All right, then I'll go to hell' maybe because he believes that the price for the kind of heaven the widow described is too steep, or because he cannot yet understand the concept of heaven and so believes it must be simply a very dull place indeed if Tom will not be there. Or perhaps because he does not have the same sense of entitlement one must have to be a slave owner, for example. When Huck fakes his demise and crosses paths with Jim, he soon sees him as an equal, and says he will go to hell if that is what it takes for him to be a true friend to Jim, his emollient father figure and loyal companion. His crisis of conscience towards the end of the novel demonstrates that he wants to be good, but he is unsure of what that means because by society's standards 'being good' would mean sending the letter telling Jim's owner where he is. In his heart, though being good means helping Jim escape from his captors, which is the choice he ultimately makes. In this way, society inhibits and mangles the growth of his strong moral compass, because he believes that he is going to hell, even though he also believes he made the right choice.

Along with the issue of the morals society imposes on Huck follows the issue of slavery. At no point does Huck ever say he does not believe in slavery; on the contrary, he does, and also considers the idea of ownership valid. Huck does, however, learn that preserving the friendship between himself and Jim is something more sacred than the claim Jim's owner has to him. Part of Huck's conflict in this aspect is that he believes the law should be upheld, and the law clearly states that slaves are property, but his faith in the law as anything valid for reasons other than the approval of society is virtually nonexistent.

Huck is a benevolent person. He treats people well, and feels consuming guilt for any transgressions he needs to commit in order to preserve his precarious lifestyle. He is generally a good person. While society can not be equitably considered reprobate by any means, it is volatile and violent; perhaps because the only distractions from the grueling trials of daily survival are the Bible and the misconstructions of its meaning, and violent events such as public lynching. Society is cruel to the slaves, but they do not really view them as people, so they cannot be condemned for their treatment of black people as they could be if they did not have the view that they are inherently inferior. African-Americans are simply bete noir in this society.

Also a closely related difference of opinion is on the subject of education. Society, i.e. the Widow Douglas and Judge Thatcher, dictates that you must study the bible and go to school. However, Huck's father Pap in all his vainglory not only sets no stock by education, he condemns, beats, and punishes Huck for being able to read, and attending school, which he views as an attempt to separate himself from Pap by becoming more educated. Huck himself is reluctant to go to school and hates it at first but gradually comes to like school and learning. Had he been given the chance, he likely would have chosen to learn, and discovered the power of knowledge and the freedom it can afford its keeper.

Though there are many obstacles and setbacks along the way, Huck's journey is one of self-discovery and growth as a moral human being. Huck is essentially able to break away from the views of society and cultivate his own beliefs and principles by which to live, though he believes he is doomed for it. He lives by his rules, and is able to sleep well at night because he tries his best to do the right thing by all which, after all, is the most important thing for someone to learn.

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samantha_sibaja said...
Apr. 11 at 9:34 pm
this was beyond helpful. Thank you so much I can know do the research that I need to do. Thanks! :)
DanielDaSilva said...
Apr. 29, 2014 at 10:21 pm
Absolutely Brilliant, helped me more then you know, Brilliant!
McDc737 said...
Oct. 31, 2013 at 10:58 am
I love Copy and Paste :)
swimmer95 said...
Apr. 28, 2013 at 12:36 pm
Im just wondering how i can cite this MLA format and the date this was published. it is good:)
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